Real estate wars

“I don’t think I’m ready to give up city living,” Patrick said to me last week, as we were contemplating putting in an offer on a great townhouse in Newton.  This took me by surprise as he never really was a “city person” and I’ve always suspected that he resented the fact that I dragged him here.  But then I thought maybe he’s finally fallen in love with the same part of the city that I have!  Several years ago, when Patrick and I first moved to Allston from our place in West Newton, we set out to explore Coolidge Corner, a Brookline neighborhood just a ten minute walk away.  As we neared the town center, we could see that a crowd was forming on the elementary school lawn.  Then, we heard a familiar female voice.  We looked at each other.  Could that be….Kay Hanley, the lead singer of Letters to Cleo?  It was!  She was performing a free concert as part of Brookline’s 300th anniversary.  And Buffalo Tom was set to take the stage later that day.  All sorts of people, college-age kids, families and young children were there, dancing.  That’s when I first realized what a special place Brookline was.  I started to notice old couples, walking hand in and hand and pictured Patrick and I spending the rest of lives here.

Three kids and almost eight years later, we have built a wonderful community of friends and families through our Coolidge Corner school/daycare many of whom live in the neat brownstones lining the streets.  Attending playdates at our friends homes has allowed us a peek into their lives and how we too could be living.  Popping into Panera on virtually any day at nearly any time means that we’ll bump into at least 2-3 families we know.

North Brookline is truly the best of both worlds; it is urban living in leafy neighborhoods.  You have the T, you have the bus, you have a CVS on every corner. Who needs a yard when you have your choice of a million playgrounds within a short walk? Restaurants, bars and shops?  Got it!  Dunkies or Starbucks?  Yup, and a few other coffee shops too!  In the summer, you have free family concerts and movies in the parks.   Do you have children?  If so, you can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a fantastic school.  What don’t you have in Brookline?  Trash on the streets, for one thing.   Brookline takes pride in its public works and it’s not unusual to see ride-on street sweepers driving up the sidewalks during the morning commute.  I went running one morning and nearly stepped on a (dead) rat, and it was gone by the time I was returning home.  Yes, there is crime.  Read the Brookline police blog sometime and all you’ll hear is shoplifting, shoplifting, not stopping at a stop sign, and more shoplifting.  But you don’t often hear about violent crime or murder in Brookline.  It is city living but with clean streets, excellent schools and relative safety.  We live two streets over from the Brookline/Boston line, and it’s like two different worlds.

However, there couldn’t be a worse time to buy in Brookline.  There is very little inventory on the market, which means there will be multiple bids submitted on the day of the first open house.  It’s not for the wishy-washy.  Like buying soup from a certain vendor on the TV show Seinfeld, you’d better know exactly what you want, quickly place your order, then shuffle down the line to wait.  But if it were only that simple!  People engage all sorts of strategies to get the winning bid – dropping contingencies (including inspection, can you imagine??), offering a 30% down payment or even PAYING CASH.  Seriously, if you have $600k just sitting around in cash, why the hell are you looking at these dinky apartments???  Then, there is always the sympathy vote – people sending letters to the sellers telling them how much they love the property, including pictures of their babies (I’ve even heard of people submitting a picture of their babies taken inside the open house – kind of weird).

Looking for a new place is like having a part-time job – studying the Redfin alerts all week, carefully planning our Open House strategy, researching the schools and before-and-after care, constant calls and emails with our Broker trying to get some inside scoop.  We go through the whole analysis on a weekly basis – do we move to the suburbs to buy something affordable, but then tack on significantly increased commuting time and cost and somehow having to coordinate the kids various drop off and pick up?  By the way, what’s up with school starting at 8:30 or later?  And no, I don’t consider 4-6 hours to be “full day Kindergarten!”  How do people actually work, especially if you work over an hour away?  Assuming we do find a good school solution for Emma, the smart thing to do would be to  wait another year, and save up some more money.  But that also means staying in this neighborhood with the constant parties and vandalism, the guy in the building who can’t seem to stop smoking pot in the common areas during the day, and in this horrible apartment with a kitchen not big enough for two adults to make breakfast in.   There’s the fact that I promised myself that I wouldn’t be here for another September move in, and particularly not with the same futon I’ve had for 20 years.  And the sad fact that I’d just like to live somewhere I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have people visit us.  I’m a 37-year-old mother of three with a successful career living like a poor college student.

Didn’t win Powerball tonight, so I guess it’s onward with the search.

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